Almost every conceivable strategy and approach to promote girl education has been covered in National Policies on Education and five year plans of the Government of India; however still many targets are to be achieved especially in the area of women education. The NPE 1986, POA 1992, SSA 2001, NCF 2005 and the NCF for Teacher Education in 2010 all focused on girl education and we cannot say things are not improving; just the pace needs to be enhanced. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (known as RTE) Act, 2010, charted a new roadmap for gender equality in education in India and the five year plans (Sixth Plan 1980-85, Seventh Plan 1985-90 and Ninth 1997-2002) specifically paid attention to educationally backward states and socially deprived groups and highlighted the role of local communities. All policy documents recognize that girl/women education especially from poor communities and rural areas need special attention. While affirmative action in the form of scholarships, abolition of tuition fees, bonds, reservation of jobs and places in institutions of higher learning have been provided, still there are evidences of stumbling blocks at the elementary level itself. There is lack of better implementation mechanism for education programmes and policies. Policies that are critical to increasing girls’ access, including flexible school times and adapted curricula, remain at the micro level and are not being integrated. Not only this, India’s budget for education sector remains far from the desired 6 per cent of the GDP. We are still not able to place education on the priority lists in budget allocation which hampers the image of education. If we look at the 2016 budget, there is an increase of Rs 43,554 crore for school education (approx 3 per cent increase) and Rs 28,840 crore for higher education (approx 7.3 per cent increase).
These issues have created a large gap in enrolment and gender parity, girls with disability, poor households, from remote or rural areas and girls from minority ethnic or linguistic backgrounds have more difficulty in getting into primary or completing secondary education. One such community is the Muslim minority community, it is observed that girls from Muslim community strive for identity crisis and gender equality; they face challenge of gender stereotypes. The retention and transition rates among these marginalized girls still persist. Therefore, there is a need to create strategies that would increase girls' participation in education, strategies that would promote safe and sustainable education for the girls and will make families from conservative communities more interested to send their girls to school. In this context, making a provision for only girl’s school with more women teachers, gender sensitive teacher training, learning material, scholarships, awareness-raising campaigns and community mobilization can make a positive impact on the society and girl education.
Gujarat is a state in India with multicultural talent. In Gujarat Muslim community is looking forward to pool in the identity and build educational institutions. Therefore education of Muslim girls in certain institutions proves to be a hall mark of representing their identity. While these facts keep challenging us to take in time steps, it is equally true that efforts are on and one such model example is of Fatimah Zahra English Medium School for Girls in the city of Vadodara in Gujarat that is certainly changing the discourse. I have examined the role played by this school in educating girls and empowering them and their community. Muslim parents here prefer to educate their girls and empower them within their own culture; they prefer a community school for their girls to any other school (successful or model schools) available in the area. Therefore the institutions that take care of religious nationalism among the community promote feelings of social networking and help community remove the identity barriers. The role of institutions of religious education is thus enhanced, such institutions help remove myths about community and promote collective solidarity. This is a reason for girls in bulk getting enrolled in Fatimah Zahra School. This school plays a major role in influencing the community’s choice to educate their daughters by catering to their demand for community schools; it promotes minority culture and tries to mainstream this culture in education.
Fatimah Zahra English Medium School for Girls, established in the year 2012 in the old walled city of Vadodara city, has been catering to Muslim populace of this area where the girl education opportunities are particularly limited. There is just one Gujarati Medium girl’s school in the area. Majority of the residents of the area are economically and educationally backward and earn their living as auto drivers or lorry pullers. The school is up to class VIII; it is growing year by year until it is upgraded to higher secondary level. After school hours the school premise is used as Madressa and life lifelong learning centre for girls. The infrastructural facilities in the school are highly satisfactory, it has enough classrooms, a subject room with smart board, Principal’s office, the staffroom, activity room, dining room and the open hall for assembly. Classrooms have moveable furniture to allow group work and are decorated with charts and students’ work (also displayed in the Principal’s office). The school follows State Board syllabus and teachers incorporate cooperative learning strategies in their respective subjects, they undergo professional development programmes on a regular basis. Since the year 2012 significant improvements were made and school became very popular.
Today the student numbers grew to 1130 with 30 female staff. The school is successful in motivating community and parents to send their girls to school. This growth made the school over-crowded; subsequently the trust members are into the process of establishing preprimary in a separate building in the nearby area. Now the community of the area have developed trust in the school and respect every activity school organise. They allow their daughters to actively participate at local and district level activities and attend various camps. It never happened before, states one of the prominent trust member of the school, who has taken this mammoth task of educating community girls. Emerging from the advocacy and initiative of the trust members of this school, the community invest in cash and kind for a separate pre-primary building for school. Members of the community are contributing their labour, raising funds, and collectively working together to get the legal permissions to ensure the completion of the new building. The trust has further plans to establish a lifelong learning centre for the girls/ women of the community.
This school is successful in changing mindsets of the community, and the people of the community are made to understand the value of educating their daughters. Being an academic advisor for the school I visit the school regularly and conduct several workshops and orientation programmes for the teachers. I witness community not only supporting their daughters to go to school, but actively participating in all the activities. Every member associated with this school spare no efforts to discuss with parents that education matters for all and religion encourages rather that hinders girls to be educated. Community has understood the value of education and realise that if a girl goes to school she can get a better job and is more capable to help her family. Together, we can overcome challenges and break the barriers to girls' education, and provide educational and vocational opportunities for all girls and boys, and then their futures will be so much brighter, says one of the Trust members of the school.
As a pathway out of poverty to economic growth, integrating Madressa with formal education, this school is successful in changing the deep rooted mindsets of community and empowering Muslim girls with education. Therefore it will not be wrong to say that policies and programs that are implemented with a strong focus on the community, with help from community or government partners are likely to be successful. Government, civil society and the NGO’s must set the benchmark of performance by implementing policies and programs for girl education and make an impact on girl child education. Therefore it will not be wrong to mention that when educational programmes are designed around the unique needs of the given community then these programmes become more effective and efficient and make a positive impact. Fatemah Zehra English Medium School for Girls is one such example of a modest step taken by the dedicated and focused members of the society to educate girl child and within no time the school has progressed in many ways. The highly increasing graph in enrolment and several good practices of this school have paved a way for the school to be called a Model School for Girls.